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Unlock the Secret to Building Perfect Teams: Google's Groundbreaking Findings - Project Aristotle

What We Can Learn from Google's Project Aristotle

In today's rapidly evolving work environment, we find ourselves in a golden age of understanding personal productivity. Many of today's most valuable firms have come to the realisation that optimising individual performance—often referred to as "employee performance optimisation"—is no longer sufficient. As commerce becomes increasingly global and complex, the bulk of modern work is shifting towards team-based structures. This transformation necessitates a deeper understanding of team dynamics and the factors that contribute to effective collaboration.

A study published in The Harvard Business Review highlights a significant shift in workplace dynamics: the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more. This increase underscores the growing importance of teamwork in achieving organizational success. However, merely putting individuals together does not guarantee a high-performing team. Understanding what makes teams excel has become a crucial area of focus for businesses worldwide.

Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimise everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimised.

Insights from Project Aristotle

An insightful initiative in this regard is Google's Project Aristotle, which aimed to study hundreds of Google's teams to determine why some teams stumbled while others soared. The project's findings offer valuable lessons for any organization looking to enhance team performance.

During their research, Google identified two key behaviours shared by all successful teams.

Firstly, effective teams exhibited "equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking." This means that all team members spoke in roughly the same proportion, ensuring that no single person dominated the conversation. This balance allowed for a diverse range of ideas and perspectives to be heard, fostering a more inclusive and collaborative environment.

Secondly, successful teams demonstrated high "average social sensitivity." This refers to the ability of team members to intuitively understand how others felt based on their tone of voice, expressions, and other nonverbal cues. This skill is crucial for fostering empathy and mutual respect among team members, which in turn enhances communication and collaboration.

The Importance of Psychological Safety

One of the most significant findings from Project Aristotle was the importance of psychological safety in making a team work effectively. Psychological safety refers to the belief that one can speak up, take risks, and make mistakes without fear of being punished or humiliated. Google's data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to the success of a team. When team members feel safe to express their ideas and concerns, they are more likely to contribute fully and engage in open and honest communication.

Fostering Emotional Conversations

Project Aristotle also encouraged emotional conversations and discussions of norms among people who might otherwise be uncomfortable talking about how they feel. By adopting this data-driven approach, Google was able to create an environment where team members felt more connected and understood. These emotional interactions and discussions of personal and team values played a significant role in building trust and cohesion within the teams.

Lessons for Modern Organisations

The findings from Project Aristotle serve as a reminder that in the quest to optimize everything, it's easy to overlook the human elements that drive success. Emotional interactions, complicated conversations, and discussions about who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel are experiences that cannot be easily optimized. These elements are critical to building strong, cohesive teams that can navigate the complexities of today's work environment.

For organisations looking to improve team performance, the lessons from Project Aristotle are clear:

  1. Promote Equality in Communication: Ensure that all team members have an equal opportunity to contribute to discussions. This balance fosters a more inclusive and innovative team environment.

  2. Develop Social Sensitivity: Encourage team members to develop their ability to understand and respond to the emotions and nonverbal cues of others. This skill is vital for creating empathetic and supportive team dynamics.

  3. Create a Safe Environment: Prioritise psychological safety within teams. Encourage open communication, risk-taking, and learning from mistakes without fear of negative consequences.

  4. Value Emotional Interactions: Recognise the importance of emotional conversations and the expression of personal and team values. These interactions build trust and cohesion, which are essential for effective teamwork.

By focusing on these key areas, organisations can create high-performing teams that are well-equipped to handle the challenges of the modern workplace. Project Aristotle's insights remind us that while optimising individual performance is important, the true power of a team lies in the quality of its interactions and the strength of its collective dynamics.

For further reading on Project Aristotle and its impact on team performance, you can check out the original article from The New York Times here.

ProventusHR facilitates immersive-reflective workshops designed to help teams explore and establish Psychological Safety @ the Workplace. These workshops focus on creating an environment where employees feel safe to voice their opinions, take risks, and learn from their mistakes without fear of negative repercussions.

During these sessions, participants engage in activities that promote open communication, mutual respect, and trust. The workshops also emphasise the importance of emotional intelligence, active listening, and empathy, which are crucial for understanding and responding to the feelings and perspectives of others.

By participating in ProventusHR's workshops, leaders & teams can develop the skills and behaviours necessary to build a psychologically safe environment. This not only enhances individual and team performance but also fosters innovation, engagement, and a positive organizational culture.

RK (Rama Krishna) is a Master Coach | Facilitator | Curious Human, with three decades of Leadership, Learning & Organisation Development experience, across industries.

He is Founder of ProventusHR - A Bespoke Learning & HR Advisory

He writes occasionally and can be reached at:

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